When I first started in the consulting biz at the turn of the century, I had a passion for creating better customer experiences and wanted to help companies create them. Building a boutique consultancy, I went looking for tools to help me -- models, mentors, and so forth.
I was really shocked to find almost nothing out there that felt really helpful.
So ultimately, I ended up creating my own model, to give structure and focus to the work I was doing with clients. After a few years of work and experimentation, I came up with the model you see here.
A fuller version, with more explanations, is available as a PDF here.
And my working definition is something I stopped messing with, because I basically think it still works:
Customer Experience Is... the internal response of an individual to their interactions with an organization's products, people, processes and environments.
Internal response includes the thoughts, feelings and emotions experienced and the rational, psychological and sensory benefits of the experience.
Since then, there has been an explosion of books, speakers, consultants and blogs focused on customer experience. Which is a really good thing actually. Because seriously, when I first started talking to executives about this customer experience -- unbelievable as this may now sound -- no one knew what the heck I was talking about.
And there is an enduring truth captured in this simple model: we understand a lot more about what goes on inside the heads and hearts of our customers, but we still cannot affect that directly. As a business manager, you can only work with your own processes, sequences, communications, people, environments.Those are your levers to make change. They are powerful levers, but you can't reach directly inside heads to muck around -- at least not yet.
Customer Insight is still the place to start
It is my strong belief that it all starts with the customer that informs my obsessive commitment to insight research. You have to try to go beyond counting up the things you can count, to experience the mysteries of another human being's experience of the world.
So probably the weakest element of this model for me, after many years in this work, is that I missed culture as an element of individual experience. Psychological factors certainly include understanding the hard wiring that comes from our biology, which we now call behavioral economics. But culture is always software. And it does matter.
Culture changes and evolves. [My Dad watches Mad Men and sees reminders of the office politics of the "girls" in the "steno pools" of his past work in a major engineering firm. I watch Mad Men and see reminders of how we have indeed changed our ideas about what a woman can do and be in our society. And how glad I am that my career pinnacle was not the "steno pool".]
So when I am looking for customer insights, I now consider culture as well as the other dimensions of the model above.
Models, templates and systems abound
If you go looking for models of customer experience now, you'll find plenty of them. Which means it's all mainstream.
There are also a lot of consultancies offering templates and systems for you to implement to improve your customer experience. And these are very useful if you aren't working with much. [Technical term: you really suck at it today].
But I would argue that -- if you have reasonable systems in place today, if you have been working at things for a while, you need something a lot more than these template approaches offer to move you into the Zone of Goodness -- a place where your business starts to really benefit from the experiences you offer to customers.
If you look around today, you will find that many people have embraced specific metrics, like Net Promoter Score, as a way to measure and manage customer experience. Voice of the Customer programs are present in all successful consumer companies of any scale.
We must be done, right?
>> More about where customer experience is going in the next post. Because this is long enough for one sitting!